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Beijing Sights - Background / elevator music fiasco

Ok, so this is more of a "Beijing Sound".  Some things are extremely difficult to express in photographs but they just have to be written about.  This is one of them by our roving reporter Xiao Wai ...

I'm sat in McDonald's trying to work.  Trying to work on something other than this.  I'm impaired however, by the Beijing phenomenon that is the "background music fiasco". 

As in many countries, Beijing, and China in general, has caught on to the fact that shops, shopping malls, elevators, restaurants, bars, toilets should have some kind of music played at low volume to soothe the nerves and help you shop, or whatever.   This makes them very modern, very western.  However, often, the music played is by procedure only.  The procedures say, put a disc in the machine and press play every morning.   That seems to be all the thought that is ever given to the subject.

Result ?  a music lover's nightmare.  Not just music lover's, but any self-respecting individual in possession of a pair of ears.  I've come to the conclusion, of course a racist sweeping generalization, that most Chinese people are not born with the "paying attention to music" gene.  Maybe its just me, but when I hear the same song played over and over again ad nauseum, I not only get tired of it, I get downright angry.  I get offended.  Beijing people (my friends at least), don't seem to hear it, and even if you say "Hey, didn't we just hear that track ?" or "Isn't that the 300th time we heard that track ?" they don't raise a smile or even care.

Repeating the same track is just one of numerous offences committed by the Beijing background music "managers".  You can also witness the horror of a skipping CD which repeats fragments of a certain track.  In an extreme example, I was listening to some Richard Clayderman-esque piece in a cafe when I noticed that the track was never ending, it just kept repeating the same few bars.  Those two bars were fairly inoffensive and I was soon leaving so I let it go.  I returned to the restaurant a few days later only to find the CD was still stuck in the same place.

Of course, all this is on top of the already poor background music selection in Beijing.  On a good day, when tracks are not repeating, the music can be pretty scary.  The two background music mega-stars of Beijing are without a doubt Kenny G and Richard Clayderman.  You thought these people were pretty out of fashion in 2004 right ?  not in Beijing.  In Beijing, you can hear the likes of these two masters of the instrumental no matter where you go. 

If its not Kenny or Richard we then move on to Karaoke favorites of all time.  The likes of Bye Bye Love,  Bridge of Troubled Water, Yesterday, Top of the World, My Way, songs by the Beatles, Carpenters, etc.  Anything with vaguely easy English lyrics.  These are all played of course by one guy with a mid-range Casio synthesizer to which you can hum along or practice singing for the next Karaoke session.  Scary thing is, they made a CD of this guy, and sold it !  to a public place !

If its not the lone guy with the synthesizer the next bizarre thing to listen out for is the full orchestra playing orchestral versions of "modern" rock tracks like AC/DC or other unsuitable for orchestra pieces.  You're listening to the violins and wind section and thinking, "Where have I heard that before ?"  ... then it dawns on you ... Rolling Stones ??  god !

Back to the guy with the synthesizer ... I once heard a track whilst partaking in a major hotel's breakfast buffet where the accompanying chord sequence being played on the a track started to get out of sequence with the lead instrument.  For those of you not too musical, it is a full-on mistake, the kind that is made when a band first rehearses.  Its very obvious and the whole band cringes.  This time it got recorded, made into a CD, sold, and finally played at breakfast !  Of course, every day at breakfast, its the same sequence of tracks so you'll be biting into your toast when it suddenly dawns on you that the track with the ugly mistake is coming up soon.

The other thing to look out for is seasonal tracks being played whenever you least expect.  Don't be surprised to hear Auld Lang Sine or Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer blasting out whilst you're sitting sipping a cool drink in August's sweltering summer heat.

In the time its taken to write this I've now heard the same sappy Hong Kong love song about 9 times here in McDonalds.  The song is ok.  Well, it was for the first 2 or 3 times.  There are maybe another 150 Beijing residents here in McDonalds with me.  I'm guessing less than 2% of them have any idea that the music is repeating.  I think its time to do a thorough scientific study.  :-)


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